IBM research: Much work to be done on making women's advancement a business priority

The company's Bevin Maguire shared a complicated outlook at PRWeek's Hall of Femme event in New York on Wednesday.

Bevin Maguire (Photo credit: Matthew Honovic)
Bevin Maguire (Photo credit: Matthew Honovic)

NEW YORK: A global survey of 3,000 organizations that studied women’s advancement produced gloomier-than-expected results.

Bevin Maguire, VP of clients, markets and industry communications at IBM, painted a complicated picture while sharing findings from the Women, Leadership and the Priority Paradox report at PRWeek’s Hall of Femme event in New York.

"There really is this doubt that advancing women will actually result in financial returns," Maguire said, about the barriers facing women.

There is also a prevailing "kick the can" mentality: respondents on average estimated gender parity won’t be a reality for another 54 years.

The role men play in perpetuating women’s lack of representation can’t be downplayed, Maguire said. There is a vast imbalance in the PR industry, for example, where women comprise 70% of the workforce, yet 70% of leadership positions are held by men.

Only 21% of respondents said their organizations make the advancement of women a formal business priority, while 69% said they’re not prioritizing women’s advancement. Another 12% said it wasn’t a priority at all.

However, there are outperformers, as well, Maguire said. These organizations treat women’s advancement like a business plan, hold leadership accountable and use extensive and ongoing metrics so gender equality doesn’t get pushed to the backburner.

"They acknowledge and they embrace their responsibility to take action," Maguire said.

The study also found that there is no shortage of respondents who believe there are plenty of women capable of handling their responsibilities. The problem is biases, unconscious or conscious, have prevented them from entering the talent pipeline.

However, Maguire’s hopes haven’t dimmed.

"We’re optimistic because the world has changed, and the world has changed because talent is a competitive advantage," Maguire said.

The comeback trail
Women shared their experiences re-inserting themselves into the workplace.

Rita Kakati Shah, CEO and founder, UMA
"Harvard Business Review recently did a survey [that found] if you had taken a career break and you probably went on maternity leave, you’re 50% less likely to get an interview because you’re mother rather than if you were fired. That is the unfortunate reality."

Tami Forman, executive director, Path Forward
"What I tell people about being a [special needs parent] is you become very good at digesting complicated information on subjects you’ve never encountered before, in which you have no expertise, and make, in many cases, life-altering decisions based on data you don’t understand. Who does this really well? Who gets paid for this really well? CEOs. But special needs moms and dads do this all day, every day. Part of it, as a job seeker, goes back to putting it in a language that a manager can understand."

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